Navarro v. Varela, 47 Fla. L. Weekly D1554 (Fla. 3rd DCA Jul. 20, 2022):
The plaintiff joined the defendant law firm as a partner. Upon joining the firm, she executed an addendum to the firm’s operating agreement. That document provided the attorney’s compensation scheme, budgeting procedures, procedures for disassociation and expulsion of a partner. It also contained a mandatory arbitration clause.
The arbitration clause stated that any unresolved disagreements regarding the interpretation of the agreement or the rights and obligations of shareholders and partners with respect to the agreement would be submitted to arbitration.
The firm terminated the attorney. She then sued it on various bases including breach of contract, for an accounting, intentional infliction of emotional distress, fraudulent misrepresentation, and violation of the Florida Civil Rights Act, arising out of her high risk pregnancy.
The intentional infliction of emotional distress Florida Civil Rights claims arose out of the attorney’s request for reasonable accommodations due to her high risk pregnancy. The firm argued those claims were also subject to arbitration, because they arose from the parties’ partnership relationship set forth in the agreement.
The appellate court disagreed. Nothing about the plaintiff’s claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress or Florida Civil Rights Act violations as pled in the complaint alleged that the firm’s conduct in those instances violated the agreement, nor were the attorney’s claims based on the terms of the agreement.
Instead, the plaintiff alleged that the firm violated the Florida Civil Rights Act, which imposes legal duties on an employer regardless of the existence of a contract. Intentional infliction of emotional distress would extend to anyone, including third parties who might be injured.
The court relied on cases stating that although the employment agreement created the legal relationship between the attorney and the firm, the complaint did not address any particular duties created by the contract. Because there was no nexus between the terms and provisions of the agreement and the allegations of the complaint regarding the intentional infliction of emotional distress and the violation of the Florida Civil Rights Act, the trial court properly concluded that those claims were not arbitrable for lacking sufficient nexus to the agreement.